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Turning Down an Ethusiastic POI


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A specific POI has expressed their enthusiastic interest in me for months. While I have moderate interest in their lab, when I visited the university I met with other professors whose personalities fit a bit better with mine and are performing research that is exactly what I picture myself doing in my graduate studies. It's fantastic (and unexpected) that all of these labs are excited for me to join their teams, but I don't know how I should approach the situation with the POI is more enthusiastic about me than I am about them, especially since they were on the admissions committee and likely played a pivotal role in securing me a top fellowship.

I've accepted the offer at the university, but still need to figure out where my home lab will be in the Fall. The university allows flexible lab rotations or direct matching. I would prefer to direct match and hit the ground running on a research project when I start this Fall, but do I owe this person a rotation in their lab? There's a small, but non-zero chance that I may actually like the work and culture in the lab more than I imagine. Or what's the most professional way to turn down a specific lab, but not a university?

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You don't owe anyone anything. I would do what's best for you. One thing you could do is do a semester of rotations and then commit to a lab. That way you feel like you gave this situation a chance plus you get to make sure the other labs are as good of a fit as you think they are.

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Second what @rising_star said. Rotations isn't a bad idea but don't do it because you "owe" them---you don't. I had an experience where I had thought I really wanted to work in group X but my school requires what is similar to two "rotations" in the first year and I really didn't like X at all. I am glad I got the chance to try out a couple of options before committing. In my opinion, one semester rotating in a lab that you aren't as interested in (for now) is well worth it as an "insurance premium" in case you really hate the lab you want a direct match for now. You'll be spending 5 or more years in the home lab, so spending at least 1 semester in another lab is not a huge setback and will open up other opportunities too.

Finally, to answer your question though, unless you are directly asked by this enthusiastic PI to join their lab, you can keep the news focussed on the positive. Write to them and say that you've decided to attend University X (i.e. their school) and that after talking to everyone, you are going ahead with a direct match to Prof. Y's lab. Then thank them for all their contact, support, answers to your questions etc. along the way.


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